Human Rights Watch calls
for fair hearing for Sarkuhi
485 5th Avenue
New York 10017
For immediate release June 26, 1997
For information contact:
Elahe S. Hicks (212) 972-8400, ext. 296
Eric Goldstein (202) 371-6599, ext. 115
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH APPEALS FOR A FAIR AND PUBLIC HEARING FOR AN IRANIAN EDITOR
In an open letter sent today to the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Yazdi, Human Rights Watch seeks assurances that the trial of the editor of Adineh magazine, Mr. Faraj Sarkouhi, will be open to the public and provide him with all necessary safeguards established in international law for a fair trial. Human Rights Watch's request to send representatives to observe Mr. Sarkouhi's trial has gone unanswered since it was submitted on June 4. "We fear that the charges may have been brought against Mr. Sarkouhi to punish him for his activities as a writer, and to intimidate other independent-minded writers in Iran," Human Rights Watch wrote in its letter, which lists other recent measures and attacks targeting writers in Iran.
A copy of the letter is attached. (click here)
Human Rights Watch/Middle East Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It is supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. Kenneth Rothis the executive director and Robert L. Bernstein is the chair of the board. Its Middle East division was established in 1989 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. Eric Goldstein is the acting executive director.
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485 5th Avenue
New York 10017
June 26, 1997
His Excellency Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi
Head of the Judiciary Ministry of Justice
Islamic Republic of Iran
Human Rights Watch is writing this open letter to express its deep concern regarding the charge of espionage brought against the editor of Adineh magazine, Mr. Faraj Sarkouhi, and his forthcoming trial. We fear that the real motive in jailing and prosecuting Mr. Sarkouhi is to punish him for his activities as a writer, and to intimidate other independent-minded writers in Iran.
On June 4, after learning that Mr. Sarkouhi's trial would soon begin in Tehran, Human Rights Watch submitted a request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for permission to send representatives to observe the trial. We are still waiting for a response to this request. We hope that Your Excellency will ensure that permission will be granted.
In February 1997, Mr. Sarkouhi was arrested and detained initially on charges of attempting to leave the country illegally. His brother Esmaeil, arrested on the same charge, was released a few days later. Since his arrest, Mr. Sarkouhi has been denied permission to meet with his family members, his lawyer, or foreign diplomats who have requested to see him. On June 24, Your Excellency was quoted by news agencies as saying that Mr. Sarkouhi would also face a charge of espionage, although no information was provided about the basis and details of this charge.
On November 3, 1996 Mr. Sarkhoui was reportedly detained at Mehrabad airport in Tehran while planning to board a plane to join his family in Germany. On December 20, Mr. Sarkhoui appeared in an unprecedented press conference, organized by the government, at the Mehrabad airport, claiming that he had been in Germany during this period. However, a letter believed to have been written by Mr. Sarkouhi that reached his wife, Ms. Farideh Zabardjad, in Germany claimed that he had in fact been held in secret detention in Iran for forty-seven days during November and December. The letter also claimed that he had been tortured during this time and forced to state against his will that he had been in Germany, and that he had also been forced to make numerous videotaped confessions.
Human Rights Watch is concerned that Mr. Sarkouhi's prosecution is part of a campaign of repression and violence targeting independent writers. In November 1994, prominent writer Ali Akbar Saidi-Sirjani died in detention under mysterious circumstances. The coroner's report on the cause of death was never released. Mr. Saidi-Sirjani was kept for almost one year in detention without trial. Among the charges filed against Mr. Saidi-Sirjani was espionage.
Human Rights Watch was informed that all of the 134 writers and intellectuals who signed an open letter to President Rafsanjani protesting Mr. Saidi-Sirjani treatment's have received anonymous death threats. In addition, since then, some of them, including Mr. Sarkouhi, have been summoned numerous times for interrogation by security agents in the Ministry of Information in an apparent effort to force them to retract their signatures. One of these signatories, Dr. Ahmad Mir-allai, a member of the editorial board of the cultural magazine Zendehroud, died in suspicious circumstances in Isfahan in October 1995.
Mr. Sarkouhi was one of the writers who had signed petitions to officials in recent years demanding more freedom of expression. In July 1996 he was briefly detained, along with five other writers while attending a dinner given at the Tehran home of the German cultural attache.
During the last two years, several newspapers and magazines have been closed, mostly by administrative orders that bypassed Iranian laws designed to safeguard freedom of the press. These include Jahan-e Eslam, Omid, Takapou, Payam-e Danshju, Tous, Gouzaresh, Gardoun, Bahar, Azin-e Mehr, Zendehroud, and very recently Aftabgardoun.
Over the last two years, a number of editors and writers also have been sentenced to lashes and/or prison terms, including Manouchehr Karimzadeh, Abolghassem Golbaf, Mohammad Sadegh Javdi-Hessari, Abbas Maroufi, and Karamollah Tavahodi.
The current wave of persecution of writers, publishers, and journalists intensified in September 1996, when security agents raided the home of prominent writer Mansour Koushan, where a group of thirteen writers, including Mr. Sarkouhi, were holding an informal weekly gathering. The writers were released in the early morning hours, after documents that included a draft constitution for a new writers association were confiscated from them. They were warned to halt such meetings.
The death in uncertain circumstances of two prominent intellectuals worsened the climate of fear among writers. In January, professor Ahmad Tafazzoli of Tehran University was found dead in Punak, a suburb northwest of Tehran. Hamshahri, a daily newspaper published in Tehran, reported that "a halo of ambiguity surrounded Dr. Tafazzoli's death." In February 1997, Ebrahim Zalzadeh, publisher and former editor of the magazine Meyar, disappeared in uncertain circumstances. His body was discovered in the coroner's office in Tehran on March 29. Mr. Zalzadeh was one of eight writers and publishers who had offered to share in the punishment of Abbas Maroufi, the editor of Gardoun magazine, who was sentenced to receive twenty-five lashes in February 1996 for writing an article critical of the government. Members of Mr. Zalzadeh's family believe that the authorities were responsible for his death.
Human Rights Watch calls for Mr. Sarkouhi's immediate release, unless credible evidence is produced in a fair trial to support the serious charges against him. If he is to be tried, Human Rights Watch seeks your assurance that the trial will be open to the public and will comply with the safeguards established in international law for a fair trial. Mr. Sarkouhi should have immediate access to legal counsel of his choice, a right you said he would enjoy in your remarks to the press on June 24. Mr. Sarkouhi should also be allowed to meet with his family members.
We look forward to your urgent attention to our request, and thank you for your consideration.
cc: H.E. Dr. Javad Zarif, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iran.
H.E. Dr. Kamal Kharazi, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York.
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